|The following story was written and reported by Jesse Abernathy
Native Sun News Editor. All content © Native Sun News.
Albert Apple Sr.
Community members and leaders from Martin and the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations gather in Martin on the evening of Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, with the family of Albert Louis Apple Sr., Oglala Lakota, who is suspected to have died from severe head trauma in the early morning hours of Nov. 8, not far from his Martin home. Apple’s family, led by his sister, Amanda Takes War Bonnett, organized a candlelight vigil and walk in celebration of his life and as a means to initiate meaningful dialogue in the effort to eliminate violence in reservation communities throughout Indian country.
PHOTOS COURTESY/AMANDA TAKES WAR BONNETT
Woman confronts brother’s death
Unites others against violence
By Jesse Abernathy
Native Sun News Editor
MARTIN — The lifeless body of Albert Apple Sr., Oglala Lakota, was discovered in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday, Nov. 8.
Apple was found by passersby lying beside his vehicle, which had somehow come to partially rest in a roadside ditch just east of the small town of Martin, in Bennett County. Apple’s home was in Martin, which sits midway between the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations, on a landlocked island of Oglala Sioux tribal land known as the Sunrise Housing community.
Apple, a former Oglala Sioux Tribe police officer, was 48 and had been dealing with health issues at the time of his death, having just been released from the hospital on Nov. 5.
He appeared to have been beaten to death, said his sister, Amanda Takes War Bonnett, and little else is currently known for certain by the family about the mystery surrounding Apple’s death. Law enforcement officials consider his death “suspicious” and are investigating it as such, and an autopsy has been conducted but the family has yet to hear the details of the formal death report.
Takes War Bonnett also is Oglala Lakota and resides in Martin, which has a population of just over 1,000, with almost half being Native American.
Apple’s family is “struggling with how he died and what happened,” his sister said in an initial email message to Native Sun News. “The police won’t let us know much until the investigation is done. … The family is hurting and looking for answers and I am sure they will come when the investigation is done … .”
According to a news release from the Bennett County Sheriff’s Office, the investigation into Apple’s death is being jointly conducted by the sheriff’s office, Martin Police Department, Bureau of Indian Affairs criminal investigations division and South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation in coordination with the Bennett County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Jeff Goble, the Rapid City-based DCI special agent in charge of Apple’s death investigation, declined comment, instead referring NSN to Pierre-based DCI spokeswoman Sara Rabern. Rabern could not be immediately reached for comment.
Takes War Bonnett told NSN the evening of Nov. 17 that Goble did speak to the family at Apple’s wake service Nov. 16, but offered little in the way of details about her brother’s tragic death.
“Until (the investigation is) all done, we don’t know why he was out there on that country road,” Takes War Bonnett emphasized in a second email message to NSN.
And compounding the family’s shock and hurt is the fact that — in this “digital age,” as she refers to it — the family had to find out about Apple’s death via a Facebook posting. “No one from law enforcement contacted us to let us know he had died. A family member just happened to see it on Facebook,” she said.
Both Apple and Takes War Bonnett are former employees of Native American newspaper mogul Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota who not only founded Native Sun News in 2009 but also the Lakota Times in 1981, which later became Indian Country Today and was sold to the Oneida Nation of New York in 1998, and the Lakota Journal in 2000.
Though Apple did a little bit of everything when he worked off and on for Giago in the early years of the Lakota Times and Indian Country Today, he mainly logged hours as a sales associate, according to his sister, putting his public relations skills to work. Takes War Bonnett primarily worked in the editorial department during her 14 years in the newspaper industry with Giago, as staff writer, managing editor and, finally, editor.
After an approximately 10-year break following her work with Giago, during which time she worked at a school, she returned to the industry for an additional three years, from 2004-2007.
In describing Apple’s condition when the family viewed his body at Sioux Funeral Home in Pine Ridge Village, Takes War Bonnett said in the subsequent email: “His neck was broken, his jaw was broken, nose broke and his face looked beat and no broken bones or other injuries on his body just his head. If I didn’t know that was him I wouldn’t have recognized that as him.”
Apple’s family mourned him during a two-night wake — as has been Lakota tradition for millennia — Nov. 15 and 16 in Martin, burying him there Nov. 17.
And in between her brother’s wake services and funeral, Takes War Bonnett, along with Apple’s nieces, was spurred to organize a candlelight vigil and walk for him on the evening of Nov. 16 in response to his suspected brutal death. About 60 family members and friends as well as citizens and leaders from Martin and the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations gathered to memorialize Apple at Sunrise Housing, a neighborhood of about 50 homes overseen by the Oglala Sioux Lakota Housing Authority.
The candlelight vigil and walk, which spanned several blocks near Apple’s home, “was not only held in remembrance of Albert but to promote awareness to the community interpersonal violence,” said Takes War Bonnett.
“My baby brother was a father, a brother and a husband. He was a grandpa and an uncle to many,” she told those respectfully gathered at the Nov. 16 event. “Although he struggled with alcoholism in the last years of his life and he struggled with his health, he didn’t deserve to die the way he did. This is a wake-up call to our family that the hurt needs to stop somewhere.”
Takes War Bonnett is a traveling public education specialist for Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains, a nonprofit organization that works to strengthen strategies and responses to combat tribal community violence. According to its website, www.nativewomenssocietyofthegreatplains.org, the organization “represents the rural, isolated tribes in a seven state area of the northern Great Plains. Active members are Native women who are either staff or volunteers of tribal government operated or community-based service programs offering services in domestic violence or sexual assault.”
Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains, which is headquartered in Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Reservation, represents 22 tribes in southern Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, northern Nebraska and Iowa, Takes War Bonnett told NSN from her remote office in Martin Nov. 17.
The death of Apple — Oglala Lakota brother, son, husband, father, grandfather, uncle and friend of many — accentuates the now historically ongoing violence that seems to have unsettlingly found a permanent home not only within the Pine Ridge Reservation community but also within reservation communities across the country in the all-too-real aftermath of the forced colonization of indigenous peoples over the past 500-plus years.
“The point is my brother died from violence and this walk/vigil was to send a message to the community it has to stop — the children are hurting from it,” Takes War Bonnet told NSN. “Last month, I attended a domestic violence awareness walk and candlelight vigil at Kyle on October 29, and OST President John Steele spoke there. And he quoted the number — 8,000 contacts or calls were made to the OST Victims’ Services program for one year for services, which is a program of three staff that are advocates for domestic violence and sexual assault on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
“That is a high number,” she noted, “I was surprised by that number.”
Also speaking at Apple’s vigil and walk were Oglala Sioux Tribe President-elect Bryan Brewer, OST Chief of Police Richard Greenwald, Rosebud Sioux Tribe Chief of Police Grace Her Many Horses, who is Apple’s niece and worked alongside him when he served as a police officer on Pine Ridge, and former OST President Cecelia Fire Thunder, who holds the distinction of being the first woman elected to lead the tribe. She served as the top executive from 2004-2006.
Brewer offered encouragement to Apple’s family and briefly spoke on his forthcoming plan to create an OST Commission on Violence.
Both Greenwald and Her Many Horses touched on public safety issues on Pine Ridge and Rosebud, respectively.
Fire Thunder encouraged the people to come together to put a collective end to the violence in tribal communities. She said a meeting on ways to combat violence was scheduled for Nov. 20 in Martin, and that she recently came from a tribal chairmen’s meeting in Aberdeen in which leaders talked about the high rates of interpersonal violence in their tribal communities as well.
“We are not alone — (violence) is everywhere,” said Fire Thunder. “The point is … no amount of money, no amount of funding will stop the violence; it has to come from our own personal desire and commitment to stop it.”
She spoke of the pain she recently endured as a mother when her son was beaten and hospitalized.
“These people that hurt Albert, do you think that person has a lot of pain? Yes, they do,” Fire Thunder said. “The ones who hurt my son, do they have a lot of pain? Yes, they do. We have to find ways to help people to deal with that pain. There is all kinds of opportunity to help people heal. I don’t know what the answer is. You, the people, can show us what to do.”
“Albert had an interesting life,” Takes War Bonnett recalled in her interview with NSN. “He worked at many different jobs, and he was always trying to be involved in the community and he also had a knack for doing public relations.
“My baby brother did good things in life.”
(Contact Jesse Abernathy at firstname.lastname@example.org)